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By Sean McDowell
For those of you concerned about the life of the unborn, I could not recommend a book more strongly than Defending Life, by Francis Beckwith (Oxford Press, 2007). Rather than beginning with the Bible, Beckwith makes the case for against elective abortion through philosophic, scientific, and legal reasoning (which, of course, is consistent with what the Bible says about the unborn). In fact, Defending Life is really not a book about abortion at all. Rather, it's a book about human equality. Beckwith makes the case that the revolution in human rights-rooted in the fact that humans are made in the image of God-that was at the core of the toppling of slavery and racism, can be extended to its logical conclusion to include the unborn. The real issue, says Beckwith, is over what it means to be human and how we know it.
Not only does Beckwith make a convincing case for the equality of the unborn, he also responds to the most recent pro-abortion arguments, such as those made by David Boonin and Judith Thompson. I am familiar with the issues surrounding the abortion debate, as I wrote a chapter entitled, "The Case for Pro-Life" in my book Ethix (BH, 2006). But it is no exaggeration to say that Beckwith has advanced the pro-life movement significantly with the release of this book. In this brief review, I want to highlight some of the key contributions in DL.
"DON'T LIKE ABORTION, DON'T HAVE ONE"
Although relativism was deeply called into question by many people after 9/11, a growing number of people still assume a relativist "don't judge" attitude regarding the abortion issue. Thus, the question of abortion is seen more as a matter of preference than right and wrong. Beckwith makes the interesting point that pro-choicers seem to be more affected by moral relativism than pro-lifers. Interestingly, though, even pro-choicers think it is the woman's moral right to choose to have an abortion! At some point, all relativists will contradict themselves. It's impossible to live otherwise.
In one of my favorite sections of the book, Beckwith points out that relativism is judgmental, exclusivist, and partisan. He says, "The relativist says that if you believe in objective moral truth, you are wrong. Hence, relativism is judgmental. Second, it follows from this that relativism is excluding your beliefs from the realm of legitimate option. Thus, relativism is exclusivist. And third, because relativism is exclusivist, all non-relativists are automatically not members of the 'correct thinking' party. So, relativism is partisan" (13-14).
ROE V. WADE
In chapter 2, Beckwith dismantles Roe v. Wade, showing that Justice Blackmun's ruling was full of inconsistencies, errors, and logical fallacies. For example, the Supreme Court claimed that it did not favor one theory of life over another (i.e. the Court claimed to be metaphysically neutral). As a result, the decision to abort should be left up to the discretion of each pregnant woman. The problem with this is that leaving the decision to abort up to the woman is to take a position on the unborn, namely that it is not a human being worthy of protection. In other words, it assumes that the unborn is not a human person with rights. This is hardly a neutral position, for it favors pro-choice above pro-life. If it is true that no one position on the unborn's moral status wins the day, says Beckwith, this is an excellent reason not to permit abortion, because abortion may result in the death of a human entity who has a full right to life.
Another example of the confusion in Roe v. Wade is the placement of viability as the stage when the state can have interest in protecting the unborn. The problem is that viability has changed over the past few years, and will definitely change again in the future. In fact, viability is more of a measurement of our sophistication and technology than an observation of the status of the fetus. Thus, according to the Court, a 20-week baby is fully human in 2008, but an unborn child at 30-weeks gestation in 1907 was not fully human. How can that be? Simply put, Justice Blackmun confused the physical independence of the child with metaphysical independence. It's only a matter of time that our technology allows the unborn to be viable from conception. Will that mean life begins at conception?
RESPONDING TO COMMON OBJECTIONS
Beckwith responds skillfully to virtually all contemporary pro-choice arguments. Here are a few samples:
"Since the embryo can twin, it is not an individual human being." In response, Beckwith mentions the example of a flatworm, which becomes two flatworms upon division. This fact hardly means that prior to splitting there was not an individual flatworm. The same is true for the unborn fetus. Furthermore, not all zygotes even have the potential for monozygotic twinning.
"If abortion is made legal, women will once again be harmed through back-alley abortions." The problem with this criticism-and most pro-choice objections-is that it begs the question. This argument only works if the unborn is not fully human. If the unborn are human, this claim is tantamount to saying that because people die or are harmed while killing other people, the state should make it safe for them to do so. Only 39 women died from illegal abortions in 1972, the year before Roe (this is still 39 too many, but far less than the common exaggerated claims). This number should be compared to the 40 million unborn killed since the same year.
"If abortion is made illegal, it will favor rich women over poor women who cannot afford to travel to another country for the procedure." The problem with this objection is that it assumes that legal abortion is a moral good that poor women will be denied if abortion is made illegal. Consider this absurd counter-example: wouldn't we consider it absurd if someone argued that hiring hit men to kill one's enemies should be legalized, because, after all, the poor do not have easy economic access to such professionals (96)?
"Legal abortion will help eliminate unwanted children." This objection begs the question, for it only works if the unborn is not fully human. The question is not whether the unborn is wanted, but if it is an intrinsically valuable human being. In fact, says Beckwith, "The unwantedness of children in general tells us a great deal more about our moral character as a people but very little about the intrinsic value of the children involved" (99).
It is odd, to say the least, that the groups who are most outspoken about "choice" (Planned Parenthood, NOW) are not the ones who create, fund, and manage crisis pregnancy centers and other institutions that help women who choose to keep their baby and help counsel those women who suffer from post-abortion depression.
Do yourself, and the unborn, a favor. Buy a copy of Defending Life and become conversant on the case for pro-life. Opportunities will most definitely arise to help persuade someone to choose life. If you and I don't do it, who will?
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